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On the Road

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Name: Jack Neefus
Gender: Male
Hometown: Newark, NJ
Home country: US
Current location: Baltimore, MD
Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 20,745

About Me

Email: jneefus@gmail.com

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"They committed suicide as a group, nearly 1000 people."

Well, not quite all of them...

To a certain extent, the actions in Jonestown were viewed as a mass suicide; some sources, including Jonestown survivors, regard the event as a mass murder.

Clayton said that Jones approached people to encourage them to drink the poison and that, after adults saw the poison begin to take effect, "they showed a reluctance to die." Wikipedia article

There is also the question of how to characterize the nature of the community and the motive for the suicides:

Jones' recorded readings of the news were part of the constant broadcasts over Jonestown's tower speakers, such that all members could hear them throughout the day and night. Jones' news readings usually portrayed the United States as a "capitalist" and "imperialist" villain, while casting "socialist" leaders, such as Kim Il-sung, Robert Mugabe, and Joseph Stalin in a positive light.

On October 2, 1978, Soviet dignitary Feodor Timofeyev visited Jonestown for two days and gave a speech. Jones stated before the speech that, "For many years, we have let our sympathies be quite publicly known, that the United States government was not our mother, but that the Soviet Union was our spiritual motherland." Timofeyev opened the speech stating that the U.S.S.R. would like to send "our deepest and the most sincere greetings to the people of this first socialist and communist community of the United States of America, in Guyana and in the world." Both speeches were met by cheers and applause from the crowd in Jonestown.

On the tape, Jones urged Temple members to commit "revolutionary suicide". Such "revolutionary suicide" had been planned by the Temple before and, according to Jonestown defectors, its theory was "you can go down in history, saying you chose your own way to go, and it is your commitment to refuse capitalism and in support of socialism."

To use the logic currently in vogue, Jonestown should apparently be blamed on socialism. Certainly religion was not the issue. It's a perfect example of why the thought process is foolish and simpleminded.

Imagine that There is an Identifiable Group of Mentally Ill People with Religious Delusions

and a much larger group of religious people who have no symptoms of mental illness.

Sampling those two groups would show a positive correlation between mental illness and religious delusion. However, in no way does it demonstrate that religious causes mental illness or is a form of mental illness.

And of course it was "impossible to tell" cause and effect -- that kind of a study doesn't attempt to address causation.

Really Good

As a former Psych major, I love seeing these things. RSA seems like a particularly good series.

At one point, however, the talk seems to say that the experimental results contradicted behaviorism, since money is a reinforcement. However, there are many reinforcements and punishments. These results seem consistent with Leon Festinger's cognitive dissonance experiments decades ago. Whenever you get beyond simple tasks by simple organisms, there are a lot of things going on, including feedback loops. In my mind, this complexifies behaviorism and makes it more sophisitcated.

I am a Nonbeliever Who Was Raised Christian as Well

and took Christianity very seriously for almost ten years beginning in college.

The Bible is by no means the dominant influence in my life, but I can't think of another book that would come close. I love the Bible, but it takes a while to really understand it in something like its historical context.

It is predictable but troubling that the harshest criticism tends to come from the least hermeneutically aware people. So much of received cultural wisdom and psychology comes through religion that it is a shame to discard it with really nothing to replace it.

Well, the Best Generally Available Source is Probably the Washington Post Article

It showed a program operating legitimately as described with about the level of violations you would expect for an effort that size, such the one analyst who was doing three-step rather than two-step phone searching asa well as data entry errors such as the one with the Egyptian country code. How anyone can square the wealth of detail in that article with Greenwald's articles is beyond me.

As far as private sources go, you would be surprised how many posters here have some idea how government actually works and recognize the earmarks of propaganda when they hear it. Greenwald is an outsider, to put kindly, and appears to take Snowden at his word despite a number of red flags and known exaggerations. For anyone familiar with the intelligence communities, the picture that he portrays of how the US government operates is so at odds with reality that is strains credulity.

Personally, my perspective on the NSA comes from a recently retired NSA Deputy Director with a close family connection I have known for decades -- a lifelong Democrat from a union family in the Northeast with unimpeachable integrity, street smarts, and an Ivy League PhD. I've known a lot of NSA people, and as a group they are decent, smart, middle-class people. It is no more likely for that group to engage in the kind of shenanigans they are accused of than for your mother and father. The whole agency has been going crazy, largely because the rank and file keep hearing things on the news no one can square with anyone's actual experience.

Snowden did break the news of the existence of the phone record database, although the alternative being adopted is really not substantially different from the previous status quo. I guess it's a matter of opinion, but his 'revelations' are so erratic I think people are less well informed now than before. And that's saying a lot.

I Would Welcome Anything to Relieve the Level of Religious Ignorance

The version of Christianity depicted on DU is not only unrecognizable. If corresponding statements were made about Jews it would be, in Rachel Maddow's terms, "hair-raising." Some of the silliest damn charges routinely get laid at the feet of Christianity without anyone batting an eye.

When Oscar Wilde was taking his oral exam in classics, he was asked to translate the portion from near the end of Acts in which Paul is shipwrecked. When the professors told him he had translated enough, Wilde quipped "Oh, I wanted to keep reading and see how it turns out." Everyone laughed -- there was no need to explain that Acts ends inconclusively in media res. It was scarcely a devout group, but religious knowledge was so much more common it was taken for granted.

I Believe Jesus Existed

but pretty much dismiss all of the nativity stories, including the jerry-rigged trip to Judea to bring in the star prophecy.

I pay more attention to the earliest known beliefs of the Ebionites, since that movement descended directly from Jesus' family. Apparently, they did not believe in Jesus' virgin birth, resurrection, or divinity. In the 3rd-4th century, Eusebius joked that they they were referred to as 'the poor' because they had such a 'poor' opinion of Jesus.

All the Christmas stuff we're familiar with, including the manger, wise men, shepards, angels and the rest, was probably written by people much later who were not there. Some people even believe that Paul thought of Jesus more as an eternal heavenly figure rather than a man, and that many gospel stories were written allegorically and never meant to be seen as historical events.

Jesus apparently was from the part of Galilee near Capernaum. However, his brother became a prominent priest in the temple in Jerusalem on the other end of the country. How that happened is not known, but it could be very important for understanding how and where the two of them were born and grew up.

Cohabitation is not Illegal

but faking a marriage certificate is.

Unless you are willing to have no definition of marriage at all, you have to rule that some marriages do not conform to your definition. In those cases, you have to either assign penalties for those that do not or simply allow anything to qualify as a marriage.

Marriage is intended to define a family, but is prone to abuse because of the financial and legal advantages offered, such as benefits, lower taxes, and easier citizenship. Polygamy supercharges the abuses.

Would you allow a man to marry two hundred women and give them all citizenship? Would you allow a brother to marry a sister, a mother, or a daughter so she can get benefits? Would you allow fifty men and fifty women to get married in a group arrangement, so that all hundred are married to each other? How would marital rights be prioritized if there are competing claims?

I knew an African man who argued passionately for polygamy, and was upset that he had to choose one of his four wives as his 'real' wife for legal purposes in the US. I sympathize with him in some ways, but would not want to take his recommendation.

I am not a purist or anything on marriage or sexual mores, but passing legislation that basically says 'anything goes' is asking for trouble.

You Do Realize the Difference Between Leviticus 18:22 and Most of the Other References?

Most of these refer to the Jewish ritual law. For Christians, the New Testament makes clear in a number of passages that dietary and other ritual laws not longer apply to Christians.

Whom to have sex with has always been considered a matter of moral law -- long before anyone might have thought that the Bible might be silent on same-sex relations.

Jesus may have enjoined the Levitical law on his Jewish listeners, while Paul did not. However, in modern terms, both men would be considered extremely conservative in their sexual teachings. Personal sexual identity was not a recognized concept, but condoning any kind of sex outside of marriage was unthinkable, much less between two people of the same sex.

The attempts to reinterpret the Bible in the last few decades make some interesting points. But silly arguments like this only speak to the unaware and roll right off anyone who knows the Bible. It is much easier to convince Christians that the moral restrictions on homosexuality should be a religious matter and not affect legal and social inequalities in benefits, taxes, vistation rights, etc.

The Way That the Romans Spread Religious Pacificism

was by promoting emperor worship along with Roman gods and holidays. A divine savior was a potential competitor.

Jesus seems to have been regarded as a potential revolutionary as shown by his arrest and method of execution. Since revolution was known to run in families, Domitian had Jesus' grandnephews dragged in to see if they were dangerous. They were dismissed as hapless rubes, which seems to be largely how Christians were perceived except when their refusal to sacrifice to the emperor got them sent to the gladitorial ring, as recounted in sources like Perpetua's diary.

Atwill seems to do what a lot of people do who charge others with not reading the Bible -- fail to read it himself. The Gospels are shot through with angry condemnations, calls for divine judgement, and prophecies of destruction which are utterly alien to anything Josephus or the Romans would have wanted to spread. I can't see Mark 13 fitting into this scenario at all along with a lot of other passages.

Personally, I don't think Jesus was violent during his lifetime, but I do not know if he would have become violent in the event of an uprising -- he might have felt called to lead the revolt and been more like a bar Kosibah figure. Or he might have remained more like his brother James, alternating among benevolence, mysticism, and vicious denunciations.

I really do appreciate Atwill's bringing the kind of political perspective that he does. I believe it is more useful, however, to abandon the invented Jesus portion of the theory along with the Josephus speculation and apply those insights to the realm where it would have taken place -- namely the Jewish political and religious hierarchies who were constantly trying to quell the kind of rebellion that eventually led to national ruin. For example, you could take the approach that the Sermon on the Mount was added later as a pacifistic element by Paul's followers. Many of the sayings in Matthew 4-6 are similar to teachings of people like Hillel the Elder, who was an accomodationist with Rome and a favorite of the upper classes. That line of thinking might be worth developing.

Atwill hasn't really done the homework necessary to propose a different authorship for the Gospels. The complex relationship between the four books has been studied for about a century and a half and is well established. You don't just read a list of place names in Josephus and say the Gospels were all made up by the same author. Even if he is seeing a legitimate influence, there are more likely alternatives such as a 2nd-century date for the Gospels which would allow for an influence by Josephus's writings. That is less sensational but more likely.
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